Political antics in Kenya not healthy for EA
Saturday February 18 2023
The recent moves by a section of Kenya’s Jubilee Party members to shred the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition are nothing strange in Kenyan politics. Since the advent of active agitation for multiparty democracy in Kenya during the dying years of the past century, shifting alliances have helped shape and breed a competitive political culture that transcends ethnic boundaries and tends towards broader class interests.
Recent events suggest that Kenya is far from settled and the public should expect more episodes of political melodrama. Months after everyone thought the dust over the outcome of the August 2022 presidential election had settled, opposition leader and Azimio supremo Raila Odinga launched a campaign challenging the legitimacy of the Kenya Kwanza administration led by President William Ruto.
For equal measure, a sudden tremor passed through former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, culminating in a change of leadership. East African Legislative Assembly legislator Kanini Kega has since emerged as the phantom behind the force sweeping through the ranks of Jubilee.
Unsettling as these events might be to a politically weary population, the optimist’s view of them is that Kanini and company are the heroes of Kenya’s democracy; trying bring to an end the manipulative politics of Raila Odinga. The less flattering view, is that the EALA MP and his acolytes have sold over to the ruling party, bent on blunting the opposition.
Indeed, it is not cheerful news to see people who should keep the government of the day in check rushing to join it for the sake of “harmony and development.”
If the intention is laudable, the method is questionable. In bipartisan politics — if the dominant political parties in Kenya today can pass for such — deal-making to find convergence on key national issues is not unheard of.
But that is pursued through open and transparent hose-trading with the desirable outcome well-defined in advance. There are no winners or losers because there is defection involved.
What has happened in recent weeks is nothing short of the kind of political skulduggery witnessed during the early years of Kenya’s struggle for multiparty democracy. Kanini’s move may not achieve anything more than wrenching a handle from Uhuru Kenyatta, in the process weakening legitimate opposition to the party in power.
That would be an anti-climax to the optimists, who had dared to hope that Kenya had turned a political corner to become a shining example to the rest of the region. It would also dent President Ruto’s credibility and his earlier assurances that he wanted a vibrant opposition that would ably keep his administration on its toes.
In pluralistic democracy, the opposition does not merely play a decorative role in parliament; it is there for a purpose. Besides its oversight role, it provides alternative leadership on national issues and is supposed to nip in the bud the excesses of those excising power.
President Ruto must not be seen to be encouraging the mischief initiated the Jubilee rebels. Allowing them to succeed is not in the broader interests of Kenyans and it could have a chilling effect on the democratic transition elsewhere in the East African Community.